February 2018 Picks
The first book in a trilogy, The 5th Wave follows the story of Cassiopeia Sullivan, a high school girl desperately trying to rescue her brother. The world she knew is gone, eradicated by the mothership that floats serenely above a landscape marked with four waves of destruction. The first wave of the alien attack took out all the electricity. The second brought on a tsunami that ravaged the coasts. The third brought the pestilence. The fourth brought the silencers. And now, Cassie is determined to find her brother before the fifth wave begins.
Nuclear war made the earth uninhabitable. In order to survive, humanity relies on three large spaceships to sustain them for three hundred years in earth’s orbit. Human society has adapted to the strict conditions that life in space requires. Anyone over the age of eighteen who commits a crime is “floated,” but the lawbreakers under eighteen are kept in isolated wings of the ship. One of those lawbreakers is a seventeen-year-old named Clarke Griffin. Clarke proves to be a capable medic, but cannot let go of the death of her father. The leaders of the spaceships decide that it is time to finally determine the Earth’s habitability, and send 100 juvenile prisoners to Earth’s surface. The 100 is the first novel in a series that follows Clarke’s and several other character’s harrowing stories as they try to make a new life on their old planet.
“A smart, funny preteen novel about a unique protagonist: very short Julia is cast as a Munchkin in a local production, causing her to gain and share wisdom about life on and off stage.”
After a staged terrorist attack kills the President and most of Congress, the government is deposed and taken over by the oppressive and all controlling Republic of Gilead. Offred, now a Handmaid serving in the household of the enigmatic Commander and his bitter wife, can remember a time when she lived with her husband and daughter and had a job, before she lost even her own name. Despite the danger, Offred learns to navigate the intimate secrets of those who control her every move, risking her life in breaking the rules in hopes of ending the oppression.
“When Mavala Shikongo deserted them, the teachers at the boys’ school in Goas weren’t surprised. How could they be? She was too beautiful, too powerful, and too mysterious for their tiny, remote, and arid world. They knew only one essential fact about their departed colleague: she was a combat veteran of Namibia’s brutal war for independence. When Mavala returns to Goas with a baby son, all are awed by her boldness. The teachers try hard, once again, not to fall in love with her. They fail, immediately and miserably, especially the American volunteer, Larry Kaplanski.”
Peter Orner has a way with scenes that will fill your heart.
Ma makes the best cookies, so good that friends come from all over to partake. But there are only so many and the children have to divvy them up into even smaller portions each time the doorbell rings and new friends arrive. This is a great book for teaching the concepts of mathematical division and sharing with others.
Set in World War II Russia, in a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, 2 young men are forced to embark on a life or death hunt to find the impossible.
An enthralling read from start to finish.
“What would you have done?” Hannah Schmitz asks the judge during her trial for war crimes in the early 1960s. The judge was trying to determine her reason for leaving a factory job to take a job as a concentration camp guard–a job for which she showed an unflinching sense of duty. What was her role in the particular crime for which she was on trial? In the last year of the war, she drove prisoners on a death march from Auschwitz into the countryside. During this march, she took her orders so literally she and her fellow guards caused the death of nearly 300 Jewish women. They barred the prisoners’ escape from a church that caught fire during an allied bombing raid. Only a mother and daughter got out. The survivor takes the stand and accuses Hannah and her fellow guards of murder. Hannah asks, “What would you have done?” Those of us watching Kate Winslet say these words or silently reading them on the page are as jarred by her question as the judge was. Is the author asking us to consider her reasons and justify her choices?
But isn’t that the question brought up by Law–or Reading? If we don’t have the capacity to empathize and imagine, to listen to other peoples’ words and place ourselves inside their stories, there is no reason for juries, judges, trials–or Literature.
The law student, Michael, observes the courtroom from the gallery. He knows the defendant very well. Hannah had initiated a sexual relationship with him when he was an adolescent boy. This relationship ended when she abruptly moved away. He thought he was the reason she left town. He is now watching her on trial for war crimes. Learning about her past causes him great pain–especially remembering her bouts of meanness to him that left him confused and ashamed. Hannah had required that he read books aloud to her before having sex. The German title of the book means “The Reader Aloud.” He learns that she did the same to young girls in the Death Camp. Prior to their extermination, they were asked to read books aloud to Hannah. Michael infers that Hannah is illiterate. He believes shame over her inability to read was so strong she moved from job to job so her employers would not find out. Though she couldn’t read, she was deeply drawn to stories. It was part of her pathology.
Her personal secret and his involvement in that secret are a metaphor for those who survive abuse and invent “after-lives.” Germans in the generations following Nazism, like Michael, condemned what came before yet they were “involved in the lives” of those who committed or abetted crimes. They sought to understand why people acted as they did. The older Michael (Ralph Fiennes) says, “When I condemned it as it must be condemned, there was no room for understanding.” Bernhard Schlink’s, The Reader, may cause you to ponder your own role in history, “What would I have done?”
In this book about state censorship and the hope of those who preserve books in their memory, I found Mr. Bradbury to be a serious scholar of English Literature. Note the following quote: “This age thinks better of a gilded fool, than of a threadbare saint in wisdom’s school!” That was written in 1599 by Thomas Dekkar in a work titled Old Fortunato. Remind you of anyone? I thought I had read this before (about 45 years before) but it turned out I had only seen the movie. I am glad I read this. It has a hopeful ending.
A quick, wacky read for any fan of ridiculously overpowered superheroes. The story focuses on Saitama, a man so powerful he’s capable of destroying the biggest, baddest monster of all time in just one punch. This manga is filled to the brim with absurd satire on the superhero genre. The pacing is a delight that will make you excited for the next volume.
January 2018 Picks
Baking with Kafka is a collection of single-page comics giving a fun satire on the literary world.
Tom Gauld presents comically exaggerated descriptions revolving around various topics. Similar to that of an everyday newspaper comic strip, with a more deadpan sense of humor.
Overall a delightful, short read for The New Yorker fans, and those looking for a good intellectual laugh.
Presents Through the Window by Taro Gomi is about Santa bringing presents to the wrong animals and people but everything working out OK. The silly humor, guessing game aspect, and lesson about sharing make this a good read at other times besides Christmas.
Alphonse, That Is Not OK to Do by Daisy Hirst is a sweet but prickly and very funny look at two monster siblings who learn to get along.
Mark, Todd, and Zola came to law school to change the world, to make it a better place. But now, as third-year students, these close friends realize they have been duped. They all borrowed heavily to attend a third-tier, for-profit law school so mediocre that its graduates rarely pass the bar exam, let alone get good jobs. And when they learn that their school is one of a chain owned by a shady New York hedge-fund operator who also happens to own a bank specializing in student loans, the three know they have been caught up in The Great Law School Scam.
But maybe there’s a way out. Maybe there’s a way to escape their crushing debt, expose the bank and the scam, and make a few bucks in the process. But to do so, they would first have to quit school. And leaving law school a few short months before graduation would be completely crazy, right? But See how these three friends work it out and win.
In honor of my Doyle-a-thon this month, I recommend Alan’s sophomore book. Alan Doyle is the former lead singer of Great Big Sea and my most favoritest of all things not related to me. If you don’t know of Mr. Doyle, this book is a great treat, taking you on tour with the boys, and if you do know Mr. Doyle, well, there you go. You will love it, and you will love him. Maybe enough to join us on part of the tour.
An epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing journeys through Mississippi’s past and present, examining the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power–and limitations–of family bonds. This new work by the author of the award-winning, Salvage the Bones, is an unforgettable family story.
A bear, 4 goslings, 3 mice and a tiny house do not make a good living arrangement so grumpy Bruce Bear and his extended family start looking for a bigger house. This is an adorable follow-up to my other favorites “Mother Bruce” and “Hotel Bruce” by the same author.
Read and Think Critically
A review by Dan Hess, Branch Librarian
The Pen is mightier than the Circus Knife. “In this book, I turn the tables on the Democratic Left and show that they — not Trump — are the real fascists. They are the ones who use Nazi bullying techniques and intimidation tactics and subscribe to a full-blown fascist ideology.” Quoth the circus knife-thrower, Dinesh D’souza, in The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left.
Shrieks and gasps from the audience. They love the drum rolls, the “hyper-partisan takedown” (Adam Howard), straw men pinned up against the wall of political history. The Big Lie aims rubber knives at various Democrats to show how they have kept Fascism alive in America all these years while Republicans have held Fascism in check. Slick operators from Herbert Marcuse to George Soros have duped us to accept their fascist worldview.
History is composed of facts; polemic is full of opinions and ad hominem attacks. The Big Lie is a reactionary polemic by a right-wing showman. US News Reviewer, Nicole Hemmer, writes, “D’Souza was a Conman in search of a mark….” Paul Gottlieb writes in The American Conservative, There are still many respectable historical works that are produced by scholars identified…with the American right. But there is also a plague of genuinely ridiculous writings on historical subjects coming from conservative media celebrities that surpass in their arrogant stupidity almost anything I’ve encountered in professional journals.”
How arrogant, you ask? How stupid? Democrats Andrew Jackson and Barack Obama–poles apart in any grade school history book–are tied together by their populist strategy to manipulate the People’s rage and discontent into voting “Democrat.” Other “Fascists” are brought to the stage. The Liberal pessimist, Herbert Marcuse, and Neoliberal financier, George Soros “collection boy for Hitler” become another odd pair skewered by D’Souza! Absent is the Left familiar to most Americans. Emma Lazarus (and my grandma) would say, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” D’Souza defends his legions of law-abiding Americans against imagined thugs who threaten censorship, intolerance, and political correctness.
“Damn, I got caught!” D’Souza’s showmanship falls flat when one looks at the FACTS of his own life. “In May 2014, D’Souza pleaded guilty to one felony count of making illegal campaign contributions in the names of others. In September 2014, the court sentenced D’Souza to five years probation, eight months in a halfway house (referred to as a “community confinement center”) and a $30,000 fine.” He had his daily coffee in a La Jolla cafe then hustled to do nightly penance in a correctional center bunk-bed. His outpatient treatment allowed him ample time to dream up The Big Lie. Some gulag Obama sentenced him to! Some Concentration Camp these latter-day Fascists invented for their snotty Dartmouth grad, aka political prisoner.
Was this knife-throwing act worth the $15 admission price, the cost of putting this book on the library shelf? The giant lie that lets such books get published is that history is entertainment. Nothing really Happens. Leftists were and still are in a worldwide Fascist Conspiracy to victimize the Right. Even though the heaps of suitcases left by the tracks of Auschwitz belonged to people who believed in pluralistic, democratic principles. Even though countless political prisoners died in Hitler’s Death Camps, turned in by Nazi sympathizers for their Leftist views or arrested for armed resistance against the Fascist Right. That’s history, folks, and the knives were real.
Read The Big Lie and think critically then compare it to:
From the Publisher: Republican Senator Jeff Flake takes his party to task for embracing nationalism, populism, xenophobia, and the anomalous Trump presidency. The book is an urgent call for a return to bedrock conservative principle and a cry to once again put country before party.
A science fiction classic set in a dystopian society dominated by patriarchal, Christian fanaticism. The story follows a young woman named Offred who is struggling to survive. She questions if she will ever escape the horrors of her new life, but she refuses to let the memory of her old life and loved ones to be taken from her. There is a film adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale that was released in the 1990s. However, The Handmaid’s Tale was recently adapted to a television series that won 2018 Golden Globe awards for Best Drama TV Series and Best Actress in a Drama TV Series. The television series was exceptional and I recommend watching it if you have the chance. Unfortunately, the DVD version of the television series has not been released yet.
Tulip Fever is a dramatic romance set in 17th century Amsterdam when the tulip market becomes extremely lucrative. Sophia is a 24-year-old woman who has been freed from poverty by her wealthy, Catholic husband, Cornelis. Several factors, including their major age difference, have made it impossible for Sophia to be happy. However, Cornelis commissions a family portrait by a local artist named Jan. A romance begins that inextricably alters the lives of everyone in the household. Tulip Fever was recently adapted to a film starring Christoph Waltz and Alicia Vikander. The DVD is available through the library.
World-renowned midwife Ina May explores the feats of childbirth and helps women shed the fear of the unknown. This book is full of useful, but forgotten, information for labor, birthing, postpartum care and so much more. I enjoyed her realistic approach and attitude towards childbirth and the encouraging birth stories she chose to include.
This novel takes place during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Between an antique Thunderbird named Lola and a couple of antique motorcycles, how can you go wrong? What starts out to be an apparent hit and run accident turns into something much more complicated. Engaging, too.